Lawmakers seek to extend North Dakota statutes of limitation in child sex abuse cases

The Forum

January 5, 2021

By C. S. Hagen

“The effort behind this is to send a message of hope to survivors. It’s really sending a message of hope and that we care,” said Rep. Austin Schauer, R-West Fargo.

Three state legislators, a Republican and two Democrats, aim to revise North Dakota’s statute of limitation laws this legislative session to open up windows of time for survivors of child sex abuse to pursue legal avenues in civil courts.

Planning on the bills began before North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem released a report Monday, Jan. 4, stating that because of current statute of limitation laws, criminal charges won’t be filed against any of the 53 priests named in the Fargo and Bismarck dioceses lists of priests who faced substantiated allegations of child sex abuse.

Much of the abuse occurred from the 1950s to the 1980s, and many of the priests named on the lists are dead. Current state law stipulates that the statute of limitations for child sex abuse is 21 years. Failure to report child abuse, a misdemeanor, has a statute of limitation of two years.

Rep. Austin Schauer, R-West Fargo, Sen. Kathy Hogan, D-Fargo, and Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, are working together on bills that would create an “open window” of two years for sexual abuse victims to file a civil lawsuit, and would extend the statute of limitations from three to 10 years for sexual abuse of a minor, Schauer said.

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